Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6
There is an array of national, state, and local seats on the ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 6, as well as three state questions seeking funding for school buildings at $250 million, state higher education facilities ($70 million), and a green economy and water bond for $47 million. (These can be found on the back of the state ballot.)
Incumbent U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) is running against Republican Robert Flanders. Gov. Gina Raimondo is once again facing off Republican Mayor Allan Fung of Cranston and independent Joe Trillo. Military veteran and business owner Salvatore Caiozzo (R) is facing an uphill battle against U.S. Rep. James Langevin in the Second Congressional District.
On the state level, incumbents Blake Filippi (R-Dist. 36) and V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 36) are running unopposed. Sosnowski was not able to attend, but a brief statement was read for her by André Boudreau.
On Block Island, 10 candidates for various positions participated in a question and answer forum at the Block Island School Library on Tuesday, Oct. 30.
Questions were posed by members of the audience to the candidates, and ranged from changing the election process to gun violence, with each of the candidates weighing in with their thoughts on the subject.
Persephone Brown and Eileen Birk, write-in candidates for School Committee, as well as State Rep. Blake Filippi, and seven Town Council candidates were in attendance, including Martha Ball, André Boudreau, Mark Emmanuelle, Paul Filippi, Ken Lacoste, Sven Risom and Chris Willi.
School Committee write-in candidate Kara Stinnett and Council candidate Les Slate were not able to attend. Bill Penn, who is President of the Block Island Residents Association, hosted the forum.
Two additional write-in candidates were in attendance: Molly O’Neill for Town Moderator and Pat Doyle for Assistant Town Moderator.
Polls will be open at Town Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 6 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sample ballots are available at Town Hall.
Questions and answers
Resident Peter Wood directed his question to the Town Council candidates. He asked their thoughts on changing the council’s election process so voters could “vote for five people” at-large, instead of casting ballots for a First and Second Warden and three council members.
Willi: “I sat on the Charter Review Committee 10 years ago, and one of the first duties of the new council is to put together a Charter Review Committee. That topic has been discussed before. Those things should be looked at and decided by the voters, not the Town Council, as has been done in the past, which I think is a conflict of interest.”
Risom: “I would have the First Warden be elected. I think that there should be a drive for leadership. You want that person to help charter our vision. I think then there should be four people at-large, who then internally vote on a Second Warden.”
Lacoste: “I would defer to Chris (Willi), if he can answer the question — of having the election be for council seats in general, and then have the council select the officers. Do you remember what those conversations ended up entailing? As I recall, we didn’t get a strong recommendation to do that” from the Charter Review Commission.
Willi: “Sure. The focus was on the First Warden. You should want to be the First Warden. Quite frankly, there’s a lot more work in that role than for the rest of us. I agree with having someone run for the First Warden position, but not having it be determined by a popular vote.”
Paul Filippi: “I think it’s always good to discuss how the town operates, and what we can do to improve it. I agree with my fellow candidates; it’s good to have someone who wants to be the chief executive — the First Warden. We used to have a mayoral system, and then it changed to a Town Council, with the First Warden assuming the mayoral role.”
Emmanuelle: “When the Charter Review Commission does get together again, I’m going to send in a letter requesting to be on it because I have strong opinions. Every vote is equal. So one [vote] shouldn’t be stronger. I also believe in term limits for our Town Council. Terms are too long, and complacency sets in as a result. I’ve witnessed it.”
Boudreau: “I feel the same as my colleagues. You wouldn’t want your First Warden to be a popularity contest. However, in the same breath, I think your First Warden should have a very strong ally in the Second Warden. So I’m not sure if that should be an elected position; I really don’t have an opinion on it. But I believe that the First Warden should be an elected position.”
Ball: “I have sat in every position on the Town Council, and I think the structure that we have is sound. I think it has worked. And I don’t see a reason to change it. All of the suggestions I’ve heard have never worked. I think there’s been a great deal of misunderstanding about the makeup and composition of this Town Council. We have a council/manager form of government. We never had a mayor in this town. It is a five-person, five-vote Town Council. I’m personally not in favor of changing it.”
Resident John Hopf asked the council candidates what they thought about building a harbor’s facility at Ball O’Brien Park.
Emmanuelle: “I’m not the biggest fan of using Ball O’Brien. I’d like to meet with the new owners of the Boat Basin, and come up with a public/private partnership that’s advantageous to both groups. I’d like to sit down with the Land Trust, and see if something can be done. Ball O’Brien — that’s door number three.”
Ball: “I think Ball O’Brien Park is an extraordinarily problematic piece of property for shore access. I think we have a very good start in a public/private partnership” with the dinghy dock that was built by the Wronowski family and installed between Payne’s Dock and Dead Eye Dick’s restaurant this summer.
Boudreau: “We need a place for the boaters. I worked for the town in the Harbors Department for 13 years, and that’s all I heard. I have to agree, maybe Ball O’Brien isn’t the best place for that, but I think we should be working toward getting that kind of facility. We need it.”
Paul Filippi: “I have a lot of experience in the marina business. I built a small marina at Old Harbor, and my family owned and operated Champlin’s Marina. I feel we should take care of the boaters — they spend far more money than anyone else. I feel the town could find an existing spot for building a facility rather than doing it at Ball O’Brien.”
Lacoste: “I’ve built a marina, too. The town may have purchased Ball O’Brien as a harbormaster position, but you have to admit, what’s been done by the groups in town has been pretty spectacular. It’s like a Swiss Army knife of a facility. We’re looking at it, but it may not be the best place for a facility. I think working with the private sector is going to be a part of our solutions, as demonstrated by the new dinghy dock.”
Risom: “We’ve got to stop kicking the can down the road. I agree with Ken, I think it’s going to be solved through a public/private partnership. I believe the Great Salt Pond is the island’s greatest asset.”
Willi: “Ball O’Brien is trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. The solution is privatization. We have no parking for 300 resident moorings. We have no bathrooms for 300 resident moorings. Never mind anchorage and our rental moorings. We have a 200-slip marina out on the Great Salt Pond that we don’t provide the fundamentals. You have to have 1.5 parking spots for, I think, three slips. I think it’s going to be privatization.”
Kim Gaffett asked the School Committee candidates what they hoped to address regarding the school’s issues and challenges.
Birk: “Communication. One of the biggest things I say with my children is, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Communication was a huge thing with my children. I want to know where they’re struggling... [and] what I can do at home to help support them. So opening access to the school, and to the teachers,” is important, as well as preparing students “for what happens after graduation.”
Brown: “I don’t know where the school is missing the mark enough to necessarily say what needs to be addressed. I do know that times are changing with regard to what our kids are facing in terms of social media, technology and bullying through social media.” She said that addressing bullying and gun violence are important issues.
Socha Cohen asked Blake Filippi what role the subject of sea level rise plays in his decision making process.
Blake Filippi: “I think on the state level we deal with sea level rise on a macro environmental level; like what kind of power do we want our state to be purchasing; do we move more towards green energy as opposed to traditional forms of energy? I think those are more of the policy decisions we make on the state level.” Filippi said some state policies infringe on local zoning ordinances. “These policies can present a lot of problems for the coastal communities.”
Resident Donna Corey asked Blake Filippi how the state can help protect our citizens from gun violence.
Blake Filippi: “I think we have to look at data when we deal with this issue. Violent crime is down over 50 percent since its high in 1992. I think that’s something many of us don’t realize, because we turn on the television and see violence. Gun violence has been trending down significantly over the past 25 years. The most pressing issue is protecting our schools. What we have to do is armor our schools, with more locked doors, and bulletproof panes. But I don’t think we’ll ever be able to stop gun crime in this country.”
Pat Doyle asked the council candidates what they would do to address issues related to the island’s senior citizen population.
Willi: “I would rely on the Senior Advisory Committee, and Block Island Health Services” for solutions. “It wasn’t in the conversation in the past, but I think it’s starting to get into the conversation now. Unfortunately, we only hear a lot about it during budget time. So, I’m going to rely on those two groups to steer the conversation.”
Risom: “When my father passed away at 100 it really hit me, given that we moved here to live here for the rest of our lives, how little services there are on the island.” He said he feels there needs to be more medical treatment programs available for seniors beyond physical therapy. Risom also said the island could benefit from having a community center with more facilities and more caregivers.
Lacoste: “I would continue to encourage the folks with Block Island Health Services, and the Department of Public Welfare. I’ve been to some meetings regarding potential housing for caregivers and we need to offer the council’s support to any of these initiatives. In the end, we may find that we can only do so much; we are a small island, but we can do more by supporting those groups who are trying to do more.”
Paul Filippi: “I would approach this with a very open mind, and talk with the elders in the community about what their needs are. I think we should have a pool on the island that’s open year-round. To solve the accessibility issue, I would be a strong advocate for a high-speed ferry commuter service, with round trips in the morning and at night all year round. Then you could have caregivers that would not have to stay overnight.”
Emmanuelle: “It’s a matter of working with individuals who can help these people in their own homes. People want to stay in their own homes, and age in place. What I would do, very simply, is take my lead from the Senior Advisory Committee and the Health Services Board, since they’re the ones that know the most facts on the subject.”
Boudreau: “It was last year this current council started to dive into the issues brought by the Senior Advisory Committee. And I’m empowering them, but I get what Mark just said. These people don’t want to lose their homes. So, whatever the Senior Advisory Committee comes to the Town Council with I would support their initiatives because they study this and have brought us great recommendations in the past.”
Ball: “The Senior Advisory Board and Health Services Board are more attuned to this. I don’t think any good would be served with us running parallel. They know what’s going on. And they know what they’re talking about. I think there’s merit in looking at housing. I don’t think running extra boats is a solution.”
Block Island Times Editor Lars Trodson asked the Town Council if the herbicide Glyphosate should be banned on the island.
Boudreau: “Yes, I think we should work on that. There’s proof out there that this is a problem.”
Boudreau said the Department of Environmental Management informed the Town Council that it had authority over regulating the herbicide. “We need a legislative exception,” said Boudreau.
Blake Filippi said he would “be happy” to introduce the legislation at the state level. In response, Boudreau joked, “We just started working on it with our legislator,” referring to Filippi.
Ball: “I think there are recourses that we have to take through the General Assembly to have control. If that’s all we can get, that’s where we start.”
Emmanuelle: “It’s an item that we’ve talked about but taken no action on. Let’s be bold. Let’s have the courage to get rid of it.”
Paul Filippi: “I think we should ban it. I would vote to ban it.”
Lacoste: “It’s easy to just say be bold and do it... but there’s reason to believe we can’t just do that. We can certainly work to do that. We can do what we can to limit its use out here.”
Risom: I want to take the battle upstate. It’s going to be a bit of a creative challenge, but it’s a good cause.”
Willi put it simply: “Yes.”
Nigel Grindley asked the Town Council how committed the town was to installing an island-wide broadband network.
Willi: “They’re very committed. The Community Anchor Institutions are scheduled for completion in December.” Willi said an island-wide network should be installed about a year or so later.
Risom: “One thousand percent. I think broadband is a critical part of tourism, our economy and our children’s future.”
Lacoste: “Yes, a hundred percent. This is going to happen. And, in hindsight, we’re going to say this is one of the greatest things this council accomplished.”
Paul Filippi: “I’m dedicated to seeing every home have broadband — although I think we should be careful not to crowd out future private investments.”
Emmanuelle: “I understand the urgency of having broadband. I’m in favor of it. I know we need it.”
Boudreau: “This town council, and the candidates up here are one hundred percent behind the project. We are working on it and moving ahead, but the taxpayers are going to need to approve the financing. I think we’re all onboard with getting that installed as soon as we can.”
Ball: “It’s in the pipeline. We’re working toward it. It’s happening. This is a technology that’s changing exponentially.”
At the start of the forum, Boudreau read a statement from Sen. Sosnowski:
“Unfortunately, I am unable to attend tonight due to a previously scheduled commitment and I have just started treatment for Lyme Disease. I will continue to be an advocate for renewable energy, environmental, agricultural and public health and safety issues. I humbly ask for your vote on November 6th.”